The Balfour Declaration
Balfour in the Land of Israel, 1925, the Ephemera Collection

The Balfour Declaration

The Balfour Declaration was a public statement issued by the British government on November 2nd, 1917, announcing its support for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The document represented an unprecedented political breakthrough in the efforts to establish a Jewish state and was therefore later mentioned in Israel's Declaration of Independence.

The content of the declaration included only a single paragraph: "His Majesty's government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

Signed by the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, Lord Arthur James Balfour, the declaration was issued to Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild on behalf of the British government. Rothschild, president of the British Zionist Federation, submitted it to the Zionist Organization.

A Major Achievement for the Zionist Movement

The declaration was the culmination of a great deal of political effort led by Dr. Chaim Weizmann, who invested much time and work in promoting the cause of Zionism among the British leadership during World War I. The declaration's final text was determined following lengthy negotiations and numerous drafts, with different political actors weighing in. The declaration was finally issued only weeks before British forces conquered Palestine from the Ottoman Empire.

The Balfour Declaration was the first time a world power acknowledged the idea of Zionism, a huge accomplishment for the Zionist movement. Jews all over the world were delighted by the news, which gave them hope and instilled in them faith that a Jewish state could indeed be established. Years later, the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine and around the world continued to celebrate November 2nd as "Balfour Day".

The National Library of Israel collections include hundreds of interesting items relating to Lord Balfour, the Balfour Declaration and its impact on the realization of the Zionist vision. There are many photos, articles and posters documenting Balfour's visit to Palestine in 1925, as well as the community's preparations for the visit. Some items describe the annual celebrations of the declaration as well as the grief following Balfour's passing. Newspaper clippings and posters were preserved, depicting the disappointment, doubts and various opinions that arose as the years went by with no Jewish state being established.

The Drafts of the Balfour Declaration

Lord Balfour believed the task of writing his declaration of support for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine would be a simple one, much like other documents published by Great Britain in the course of expanding its Empire. He soon learned that when it came to the Holy Land, nothing could be simple. Balfour was forced to rewrite the declaration numerous times, until he finally resolved to jot down his signature after many revisions. Who pushed Balfour to rewrite the declaration, and why?